Research: The Speyer School

| October 13, 2010

Speyer School
Speyer School was an outgrowth of a ”free kindergarten” established by St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, at 521 West 126th Street. In 1899, the church joined with Columbia’s Teachers College to expand the school to include grade-school pupils of what then was a lower middle-class neighborhood. It was funded in 1901 by James Speyer, German-born heir to a family banking firm and a member of the city’s Board of Education in the 1890’s, who gave $100,000 for a new seven-story building, including a roof deck. There was a strong ”settlement house” component to the school. The structure, which served about 260 pupils through the eighth grade, was open Monday through Saturday from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. to accommodate community programs. BY 1915, Teachers College changed its emphasis from elementary to secondary school education and it permitted the city to use the building as an annex of Public School 43 on 129th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. In 1919, the college leased the building to the city. The building continued to be used as a public school, but in 1936 a new experiment was announced: The building became P.S. 500, with a mix of 225 pupils, both the gifted and the backward. The experimental school was established to see if separating students with special needs from the average students would improve their performance over the existing system, which called for generally homogeneous classes. At the end of a five-year experimental period the school was closed for lack of funds, but its report was widely published. It suggested that separating ”dull-normal” students from the average students actually slowed them down, but that it benefited the gifted. The school building was apparently abandoned during World War II – photographs taken in 1945 show broken skylights and water damage down to the second floor. The Episcopal Diocese of New York owned the building from 1964 to 1977 when it housed many civil-rights programs.
Created By: Digitization Depot,

retrieved from: Pocket Knowledge